Teachers We Love

They somehow continued to engage and inspire our children, even when classrooms were closed.

Photo by Skip Brown

Renee Randolph

Culinary arts instructor
Arlington Career Center

Years teaching: 16

Randolph is an American Culinary Federation certified chef (she also has an MBA) and was named APS 2020 Teacher of the Year. Her students operate a full-service pop-up restaurant called Off the Pike, and a food truck, Off the Pike Mobile, both of which are open to the public during the school year. The truck will resume operations in September and the restaurant reopens in October.

Our curriculum starts with basic safety and sanitation. Then we get into knife skills and understanding equipment in a food establishment. Then we focus on different cooking techniques—braising and sauteing. Once they have those foundational skills, then they get into menu creation, serving customers.

We also spend a lot of time on culinary and business math—setting menu prices, determining what they need to sell to turn a profit. You can be the best cook in the world, but if you don’t know the management side of it, you’re going to sell out every day and not understand why you’re going out of business.

One of the most challenging skills culinary students learn is fabrication. They’ve got to learn how to break down a chicken, using their chef’s knives to break it into eight pieces. It was the hardest thing to teach online [during Covid], because you’ve got to feel the joints. In normal times when my students are in front of me, I can put their knife in the exact place where they need to make the cut. At home, I was on the computer saying, “Move it a half an inch to the right. Pick it up and bend it.”

For a lot of students, the Food Network and other cooking shows have sparked an interest in the culinary industry. They all want to be the next “Top Chef” or the next great baker. What’s nice is that they see that on TV and then come into our class and they can watch those shows again with a technical eye. They catch the safety and sanitary mistakes.

I have three kinds of students. I have some who think, “I’m going to get to eat good food,” which they do. I have the kids who are hands-on learners and they want a class where they learn by doing. And then I have the kids who are able to very clearly express, “This is what I want to do as a career. How can you help me get into culinary school? How can you help me get a job in the industry or get my food handler’s license?” The goal is to take all three of those motivations and get them to the same place by the end of the year.

It is so gratifying to see kids excited about what their future could be. That there was a recipe they figured out because of the support you gave them. I love working with kids because their energy is so endless.

–interview by Lisa Lednicer



Photo by Skip Brown

Will Snyder

AP and IB computer science teacher
Meridian High School (formerly George Mason High School)

Years teaching: 22

Named 2021 Teacher of the Year by the Falls Church Education Foundation, Snyder loves pure proofs of math.

The current computer science class is a mix of art and the old shop classes we used to take when we were kids, in that they are building something. Whether it’s a silly little program that adds two numbers or a video game, the students feel ownership over creating something. They get to put their style into it. Whether the style is the logic of their coding or how it looks onscreen, the kids get really excited to have that.

There’s this big fear and intimidation around computer science—the idea that you have to be a genius, or the kid who’s been doing math since they were 18 months old. I try to break that down. I try to put the student first before the computer science. Then the computer science comes naturally.

A handful of my former students work at Google and Apple now. A lot of them have gone up to MIT to get into more of the robotic or hardware side of programming.

Seeing students who struggle—the ones for whom math and computer science isn’t naturally easy—and seeing them have a good time in my class and learn things and then graduate is possibly the best part of this job.

I had a student two years ago who loved baseball. We start off the year making some of those early video games like Pong, Space Invaders—and he’s like, “Can we make a baseball game?” Then he asked, “Can we do some data analysis of baseball?” We started doing data analysis. Then we contacted some stats companies that do baseball analysis, and he got an internship. Now he’s off at Syracuse University and he’s got an internship with an analytics company in Seattle for the Seattle Mariners.

When I first started teaching coding, I didn’t have a video camera or a projector; I was writing code by hand on the board. The kids were writing it down and then walking to PCs in the back of the classroom that barely worked. I wasn’t allowed to give homework because we couldn’t assume every kid had a computer at home. Now all the students [are given] their own Mac Airs.

The biggest challenge—and it will be for a while—is to get more underrepresented groups inside my classroom. Computer science has this image that it’s a boy’s subject, and it’s all video games, and it’s hard. I’ve gone through a bunch of training at UVA on how to get more diverse students in my classroom. The field is predominantly white male.

–interview by Lisa Lednicer



Photo by Skip Brown

Michelle O’Hara

Lower School librarian (grades K-3)
The Potomac School

Years teaching: 23

After living in New York City and Texas, O’Hara now works at the private school she attended growing up. She starts every library visit with breathing and mindfulness exercises.

I was a Potomac lifer; that’s what we call people who go kindergarten through 12th grade. The hardest part of coming to teach here was probably learning to call some of my former teachers by their first names.

After being a classroom teacher, I’ve been a librarian for five years now. To have my entire job focused on kids’ joy of reading is incredible. I joke that I’m no longer responsible for whether or not kids can read; only whether or not they want to read.

We let students choose any book they want. That does mean that a kindergartner is sometimes picking up a giant, 200-page text. Parents will say, “You’re sending them home with books they can’t read!” And I say, “Yes, and did you see the spark and the joy in their eyes about that book? That’s exactly what we want.” Sometimes we adults need to really bite our tongues about what kids are choosing.

I want little kids to have time with text. It teaches them the anatomy of a book—the spine, the cover, the back. It also helps them figure out that text goes left to right; how we turn pages in a book. All of these are important pre-reading skills.

We have amazing books that talk to kids about the civil rights movement, the Children’s March, about including people and excluding people and being an upstander and being a bystander. Those are things we once thought were too heady for children. I don’t think we believe that about children anymore.

The common myth is that kids aren’t into books and just want to play video games. Little kids love seeing themselves in stories, exploring the world and digging deep on topics through stories. Kids will get curious about something, and they’ll want to take out every wolf rescue book you’ve ever had. They want to go deep on World War II.

One of my favorite units is a Mistakes Unit that I do with first and second grade. We read tons of books where characters make mistakes and we talk about bouncing back. Recognizing that all success in life comes from a whole slew of failures is important.

You see lots of different kinds of reward systems around reading. I think the real challenge is not minutes per day, or pages per day, but finding that book that ignites a kid’s love of learning. For parents, the challenge is knowing that it might be far outside what you think they should be reading. If what your kid loves to read is a Disney princess book that you hate, you should still let them read that book, and let them read it 50 times in a row.

–interview by Lisa Lednicer

Categories: Education